Visitors wait in line to receive COVID-19 tests at a makeshift clinic in Suwon, south of Seoul, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
The number of new coronavirus cases in South Korea stayed in the 500s for the third consecutive day Thursday, in yet another sign that the third wave of the pandemic has passed a peak on the back of tighter virus restrictions.
The country added 524 more COVID-19 cases, including 496 local infections, raising the total caseload to 70,728, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
It marked a slight drop from 562 posted Wednesday.
The country, touted as one of the most successful nations in containing the spread of the virus, has suffered from sporadic cluster infections across the country over the past weeks.
The country's new virus cases reached a peak of 1,241 on Dec. 25, and daily figures had continued to breach the 1,000 threshold multiple times.
To cope with the soaring number of COVID-19 cases, health authorities have adopted the so-called Level 2.5 social distancing scheme, the second highest in the country's five-tier scheme, in the greater Seoul area since Dec. 8.
The relatively moderate Level 2 social distancing policy has also been implemented in other areas.
The tightened measures will run through Sunday, and health authorities will decide on Saturday whether to maintain the current curbs or lower them.
But regardless of adjustments in the level of virus curbs, health authorities will ease restrictions on the so-called high-risk facilities, including gyms, karaoke establishments and cram schools.
South Korea, however, said it may have to keep in place the current ban on gatherings of five or more people.
"We have reached a judgment that the ban cannot be lifted immediately," Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health official, said during a meeting with reporters.
"Although the daily numbers hover around 500, it is still a lot compared with those from the first and second wave of the pandemic," Yoon added, pointing out that an abrupt change in the social distancing scheme could lead to another uptick in new COVID-19 cases.
Of the locally transmitted cases, the capital city of Seoul accounted for 131 cases, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province took up 162. Incheon, west of Seoul, had 24 new cases. The greater Seoul area accounts for around half of the nation's population.
The southeastern port city of Busan added 40 cases, and Gwangju, which lies 329 kilometers south of Seoul, accounted for 30 infections.
Cluster infections lingered, with a correction facility in eastern Seoul reporting 1,214 patients as of Wednesday.
A nursing hospital in Suncheon, 415 kilometers south of Seoul, reported 106 COVID-19 cases as well.
Imported cases came to 28.
The United States accounted for seven cases, and Indonesia took up five. Three were from Tunisia.
The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 380, up six from a day earlier.
South Korea added 10 more deaths, raising the total to 1,195.
The fatality rate reached 1.69 percent.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries was up 1,136 from the previous day to reach 55,772. This indicates nearly 79 percent of COVID-19 patients reported here being cured.
South Korea carried out 4,925,359 COVID-19 tests since last year, including 53,047 the previous day. (Yonhap)